A special assembly elected former German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier by an overwhelming majority Sunday to be the country's new president. Steinmeier was elected in Berlin by the assembly made up of the 630 members of parliament's lower house and an equal number of representatives from Germany's 16 states. He received 931 of the 1,260 votes. Steinmeier succeeds Joachim Gauck, a 77-year-old former pastor and East German pro-democracy activist who did not seek a second five-year term because of his age, the AP reports. The German president has little executive power, but is considered an important moral authority and symbol of the country as its host for visiting dignitaries.
"Let's be brave, because then we don't have to be afraid of the future," Steinmeier said in his acceptance speech. He said the world faces "rough times," but that Germany, as a functioning democracy, had the responsibility to fight for stability. Steinmeier is normally studiously diplomatic, but he strongly criticized Donald Trump during the US election campaign. Asked in August about the rise of right-wing populism in Germany and elsewhere, Steinmeier criticized those who "make politics with fear." He cited as examples the nationalist Alternative for Germany party, the promoters of Britain's exit from the European Union, and "the hate preachers, like Donald Trump at the moment in the United States."